Republicans, and a handful of Democrats, have introduced more than 80 pieces of anti-Muslim legislation in state legislatures since 2013, finding new ways to target Islam by tweaking language that courts have ruled unconstitutional, according to a report released Monday.
Of their dozens of attempts, legislators have succeeded in enacting anti-Islam bills or amendments in 10 states, according to the report, which was prepared by the Council on American Islamic Relations, perhaps the country’s most prominent Muslim group.
Most are efforts to preemptively bar U.S. courts from considering Islamic jurisprudence, or Shariah law. With civil rights groups and judges balking at the singling out of Islam, lawmakers are sidestepping constitutional snags by broadening the text to “foreign laws.”
For example, there’s not a single reference to Islam or Shariah in a Florida bill that prohibits “foreign laws” from influencing state court decisions. But the author, Republican Sen. Alan Hays, distributed anti-Muslim literature ahead of the vote.
“Our religious, political and peaceful way of life is under attack by Islam and Shariah Law,” Hays’ fliers said, according to the report. “Save my generation from this ideology that is invading our country and masquerading as a ‘religion.’ ”
They understand now that if they put the word ‘Islam’ in there or single out one religion, the law won’t be constitutional, so they’re finding other ways.
Paul Galloway, American Muslim Advisory Council
The bill became law in 2014.
CAIR’s findings in its report on the effects of “Islamophobia,” or anti-Muslim hostility, jibe with an independent McClatchy examination that tracked anti-Muslim legislation in Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee.
At a news conference Monday to announce the report, CAIR officials sounded alarmed by how widespread anti-Muslim sentiment is becoming, moving from fringe hate groups into mainstream political discourse and, they fear, into official policy.
10 states that have recently passed anti-Muslim legislation
“Viable contenders for the office of the presidency, such as Donald Trump, have announced the unconstitutional policies such as banning Muslims from the United States, profiling American Muslims just because of their faith, creating a database of American Muslims, which reminds me of what happened to Jews in Europe and Germany,” said Nihad Awad, CAIR’s national executive director.
The report documents anti-Muslim discriminatory practices in schools, politics, media, courts and law enforcement. Researchers from CAIR and the Center for Race and Gender at the University of California-Berkeley also traced the financing of anti-Muslim campaigns and noted increasing anti-Muslim violence: More mosques were targeted in 2015 than in any year since CAIR began keeping a tally in 2009.
“Such legislation depicts Muslims, who comprise 1 to 2 percent of the entire population, as a critical danger to the national security of the country. So in the minds of the general population, it becomes a matter of ‘I need to get to them before they get to me,’ and that, in turn, perpetuates violence,” said Engy Abdelkader, a senior researcher at Georgetown University’s The Bridge Initiative, where last month she published, “When Islamophobia Turns Violent: The 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections.”
The report details the efforts to pre-emptively ban Shariah in a seven-page section that notes the U.S. Constitution already bars the kinds of undemocratic principles that sponsors of the measures argue their bills are intended to prevent.
In 2013, 36 bills or amendments were introduced in 16 states, according to CAIR research. That number dropped in 2014 – to 14 introduced in 11 states – before rising sharply again in 2015 to 31 introduced in 17 states.
Here are some other findings from the CAIR report and a McClatchy examination:
– In Idaho, an anti-Shariah bill didn’t mention Islam specifically, but the sponsor, Rep. Eric Redman, circulated images of a severed hand and a man facing decapitation interspersed with negative references to Shariah and Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
– The vast majority of bills are introduced by Republicans, with a few Democrats signing on in some states. Florida’s 2014 foreign laws bill, for example, was sponsored by four Republicans and a Democrat, Rep. Daphne Campbell of Miami. In 2015, all but one of the 31 proposed bills or amendments were Republican initiatives.
– South Carolina Rep. Harry Limehouse, R-Charleston, was upfront about how he intended to push through his anti-Shariah bill: “I think in order to avoid the constitutional challenges that will certainly come, we’re gonna change the word ‘Shariah’ law to ‘foreign’ law,” CAIR quoted him as saying. The bill carries over to the 2016 session.
Paul Galloway, who monitors Islam-related legislation as director of the American Muslim Advisory Council in Tennessee, said he, too, had noticed how once-overt language has given way to vaguer wording as courts have struck down some bills.
In Tennessee this year, he said, one proposed amendment would ban schools that “treat males and females differently.” Another initiative, he said, proposed “no teaching of any religious doctrine until 10th grade.” Still another made the Bible the official state book.
“They understand now that if they put the word ‘Islam’ in there or single out one religion, the law won’t be constitutional, so they’re finding other ways,” Galloway said. “I would call it sophisticated bigotry.”